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Becca playing the piano in her Hallowe'en pirate outfit for work--with framed pictures behind her, lots of books, and even some of our games!

Becca playing the piano in her Hallowe’en pirate outfit for work–with framed pictures behind her, lots of books, and even some of our games!

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s!

I have 173 framed photographs of our family on display in my house. Interior decorators would likely have a heart attack, because not all my frames match. When you have 173, you’ve got to rely on some thrift store frames. I don’t do the matching art thing, or the minimalism thing. I blow up pictures—any pictures—and stick them somewhere (you can even mount an 18×24 on canvas inexpensively!). On my latest picture-hanging frenzy, I realized we were in danger of running out of wall space on the stairs. What would I do when the girls get married and have more photos? Thankfully, I discovered that my bathroom is still picture-free, so all is well.

My kids’ friends think we’re rather endearing—or at least I hope that’s the word they’d use, rather than “bizarre”. The most frequently asked question upon entering my door is, “Do you have any more pictures up, Mrs. Gregoire?” But that’s not the only idiosyncrasy these teens tease us about. One particular friend who sleeps over frequently has confessed to my girls that she always enters our kitchen with trepidation, in case she finds my husband and I “making out” in there. So she’s always careful when she turns any corners. My kids just think our displays of too much affection are normal, though that doesn’t stop my 13-year-old from grumbling about it. But I figure love is what makes us a home.

And it’s that feeling that I’m aiming for when people visit. My house may look like it lacked an interior decorator, but it still makes me feel comfy, even if I do have too much stuff—and not just pictures, either. We have well over two thousand books in our bookshelves. I have hand-dyed yarn in containers scattered everywhere, waiting for my next project. I have various colourful blankets the girls and I have knitted on every couch. And I have lots of people to hug. That’s what I want people to see, because that’s who we are as a family.

I don’t actually want my house to be perfect, because I think that’s rather boring. Besides, when you try too hard to have a perfect house you’ll never have anybody over, because they may see how you actually live. With all the decorating magazines and home and garden shows, it’s easy to feel inferior when you look around at your own house, with its cat hair, or its endless stream of laundry and dishes and clutter. But too often that feeling that we’re not doing things right causes us to hibernate. Apparently fewer than half of Canadians had anyone in for dinner last year. Most of us are too busy watching TV, cocooning because we feel inadequate.

Here's all the women in my family celebrating my Mom's 25 year anniversary of being Cancer Free! We threw her a "Glad You're Not Dead" party. And those are clay molds of my daughters' handprints on the left on the walls, and Becca's art on the right.

Here’s all the women in my family celebrating my Mom’s 25 year anniversary of being Cancer Free! We threw her a “Glad You’re Not Dead” party. And those are clay molds of my daughters’ handprints on the left on the walls, and Becca’s art on the right.

I think our society would be a whole lot happier if we stopped trying to have designer houses and just realized that we all lived in actual homes—and those homes should reflect us. If I visit your house, I’m not going to notice the crumbs on the counter nearly as much as I’ll stare at that 30-year-old wedding photo, or the baby portrait. I’ll glance at the titles of your books far more than I will judge the level of dust. Why don’t we stop judging each other based on what we own, and instead just celebrate getting to know who people are? Isn’t that what real community is?

So if you ever come into my house, feel free to laugh at the pictures, leaf through a book, or even pick up some knitting needles. Just be careful when you go around a corner.

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